The games keep getting better
Andy Payne understands better than anyone the revolution the UK games industry has gone through over the past 30 years. The man who started out manufacturing interactive educational software on cassettes for William Collins has held just about every job there is in British gaming, most notably as Founder of The Producers and Just Flight, CEO of Mastertronic, and Chairman of Ukie. Now working as Chair of the British Esports Association and a Patron of the BAFTA Video Games Committee, Andy reflects on his lifelong passion for games and shares some advice for those just starting out.
What was it that sparked your interest in the games industry?
The reason I got into gaming was completely by chance. I went to art school to study graphic design and in my last year, I was fiddling around with some code. That was 1983.
I then got a job at the book publisher William Collins, which in 1985 bought an education software publisher and started trying to make it interactive.
Everyone knew I was interested in games and so the managing director called me in and asked me to go and sit alongside the guy who he’d appointed to run the new division and see if I could help him.
We needed to figure out how to get the software manufactured and out to market.
My job suddenly became about finding out how we could deploy this into the different video games formats, which back then were all on cassettes.
The manufacturing of cassettes was all done by the record companies and to cut a long story short, someone then headhunted me from that industry who was a setting up a production company specifically to deal with video games software.
I worked there for about two years. Baptism of absolute fire. I found myself in the middle of this absolute maelstrom of how the games industry used to work.
Funnily enough, it hasn’t changed much.
What do you think has made you so successful over the last 30 years?
I’m a mediator. My job is to translate one set of people’s wants, needs and requirements to what somebody else can do and figure out how to blend it together without people going to war.
I’ve always been involved in the practical, production side of things and then dealing with developers because I understand how the development process works.
Over time, I’ve gotten more involved in development and I understand how games are put together, why they are always late and why they are incredibly difficult things to make.
It was never a career decision for me, it was only ever a case of ‘what’s the next gig’ and I’ve never sat back and watched the money flow in because, in the video games business it doesn’t really work like that – you’re always going after something new.
What do you love most about the games industry?
The games keep getting better.
Multiplayer online games are where it’s at right now and that is an incredibly difficult piece of engineering to pull off.
They’re pretty amazing in terms of graphics and they’re amazing to play, but they’re only going to get better by a small degree, there’s no generational shift.
What keeps the games industry interesting is that, because of the democratisation of digital technologies, the whole world is now making games.
Suddenly, if you’re a games maker or you’re in the industry, your competition has increased dramatically.
That competition means there’s never been a better time to play games and there’s never been a better time to make games.
How important are player communities in this new era of gaming?
The community is the most precious thing in a game’s life.
Any games developer who doesn’t understand that will fail because players are everything.
It’s tricky because people who have got a great creative vision don’t always want to listen to what their community has to say. They go into denial and make mistakes because they don’t understand the essential nature of community.
We can’t tell them as game makers how hard it is to make games. If you start that way, you’re dead.
Players are always the best advocates for a game and it’s important to respect that.
Should games companies use their platforms to highlight social issues and amplify key campaigns?
I don’t think it’s a question of should, I think it’s a question of must.
What we’re finding with online audiences is that games are being played without barriers.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of competitive rivalry, but you could be playing a game with people from all over the world and it doesn’t really matter because everyone is just playing the game.
Games companies shouldn’t preach to anybody, but they should be aware of what is the right thing to do.
In their messaging and marketing and the way they engage with their community, they mustn’t be reactionary or discriminatory, they’ve just got to be open and accessible.
In general, if there are issues that you think need to be put right, then you should use your influence and your platform to both acknowledge and amplify them.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry today?
Don’t think too far ahead.
Make sure you do right by the people you work with and choose the people you work with carefully because you don’t always get it right.
Also, make sure you know why you’re doing something, be focused and be aware of how tough it’s going to be.
I think you can make a great living in games if you get good at what you’re doing and stick at it.
If you can stay in for five to seven years, you can start to build a career and then have some real fun, but none of it is ever going to be easy.
- For Andy Payne, nurturing the community of players around any particular game is key to its success. Players give user feedback and are the best advocates for a game.
- Games companies should use their platform to acknowledge and amplify key issues without being reactionary or discriminatory.
- Andy Payne has held numerous roles in the video games industry and is currently Chair of the British Esports Association, Patron of the BAFTA Video Games Committee, Vice President of SpecialEffect and a Trustee of the National Videogame Museum
The META Games Industry Index is a campaign powered by UMi, with the support of Ukie.
The index highlights and celebrates the creativity, innovation, job creating and positive social impact of the games industry across the UK. For more information, please visit https://www.metagamesindex.co.uk/